Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

The Author

Paula Hawkins is most famously known for her debut novel ‘The Girl on the Train’, which is not only a bestselling novel but now a very successful film starring Emily Blunt.

I loved this book, I also quite enjoyed the film. There was something not quite right about the main character and everything that happened to her. You willed her to be more than she appeared. You felt sorry for her, but at the same time, you could definitely see yourself making the same mistakes. Rachel is a flawed individual, an alcoholic, at times a horrible person, but someone who you are rooting for. Hawkins manages to make her all of those things within the first couple of chapters and untangles her twisted tale throughout the rest of the book. It truly was a page-turner.

The Book

I have on occasion been known to use the cliched saying “This book was a joy to read”, I cannot, however, say that about this book. It is well written and the story is intriguing, but it is harrowing and I’d compare it to the feeling you get when watching a true life crime programme.  You know the feeling when you question how humanity can be so cruel and evil? That is how I feel about this book.

Into the Water front cover

The way I talk about this book is the way I hear people talking about ’13 Reasons Why’, it is at times painful to read and it reminds you of the horrendous acts which people can inflict upon each other.

However, Hawkin’s way of storytelling is really keeping me hooked, I really do want to know what happens.

Who killed Nel? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Who or what is this mysterious power who rids the town of ‘troublesome women’?

Synopsis

‘I need you to call me back. It’s important’

Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call.

Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death.

But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowining in secrecy…

And of knowing that Nel would never have jumped.

Relationships

The book focusses on the relationships between several central characters. It is perhaps the relationship between Jules and her sister Nel which makes me most uncomfortable, but this is, in fact, a positive reflection of Hawkin’s writing.

The realism of the relationships in her writing makes me question my own sibling relationship and wonder if I, the older sister are seen in such a negative light as Jules clearly see’s Nel. This relationship is tragic really, the sisters could have helped each other through so much, instead, they were at each other’s throats.

I have an almost morbid fascination with stories which focus on dysfunctional family relationships, I think that they make me feel better about my own. It can be cathartic, whilst also being incredibly uncomfortable, to relate to these characters so deeply.

Another main theme appears to be the relationship between parent and child. Each character’s relationship with either their parent or child is explored and the flaws in these relationships laid bare. Be it the distrust which Josh Whittaker has for his mother, the painful shared loss which prevents Sean from interacting properly with his father or perhaps Nel’s dysfunctional relationship with her daughter Lena.

At the heart of this book is not the river, as first believed, but the interactions and often disastrous encounters which the characters have with one another. the love and the hatred felt by each of them is visceral

Mystery and intrigue

The mystery surrounding ‘The Drowning Pool’ is what pulls the story on, but it is the character relationships which make up the bulk of the narrative, these interactions make up the daily lives of the characters whose lives seem rather mundane and normal on the surface. Once you look below the ordinary exterior of the people in Beckford you discover the dark secrets and turmoil hiding just below the surface

Setting

Into the Water is set in a small town called Beckford. It is supposedly about an hour’s drive from Craster and Howick. In spite of Hawkins very clear description of the town, it’s geography and it’s layout, it does not actually exist.

In researching this town, I have discovered a website called ‘The Book Trail‘ which discusses the locations discussed in various books. It is basically a blog which focusses on the settings of books. There is even a section in which authors will discuss their works in relation to the settings.

“As much fun travelling via fiction is, sometimes all you need is to sit back and take the time to enjoy a drink, a piece of cake and chat with the people on the journey with you”

Overall opinion

Although this book is not the most upbeat book I’ve read recently, it was certainly one which kept me hooked and wanting to know more every time I had to put it down. The twists and turns were not predictable and although you felt like some of the character’s actions were vindicated, I still felt myself questioning their motives or arguing with them in my head.

This is a very well written book and a story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. Well worth a read, but only if you are in the right emotional state.

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

Book and Skull

Anthony Horowitz

I found this book on offer at my local supermarket. Having never read an Alex Rider novel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the idea of Horowitz moving from Young Adult stories into Adult stories intrigued me.

When I picked up the book, I was unaware of Horowitz’s other career achievements in TV and film.

To me he had always been a YA author.

Story device

This book struck me as a bit strange and unusual within ten pages. Anthony Horowitz has broken the fourth wall of writing. This in itself is not unusual. It has been done in many novels over the years. What is unusual is that he had made himself a character. And the information he provides about himself is pretty accurate. It makes me wonder how much of the rest of the story is based on real people and real events. 

Lemony Snicket, of course, used this method in his ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’, so it is not a new device, I think I was just a little surprised to see it used in such a way. This is, after all, a murder mystery. It is not as if he is using his voice as a character, he himself is the character, with a real life and a real family and his achievements are real and accurate, his career is real, even his script for Tintin being scrapped is real (although, who knows if it went down the way the describes in the book).

As I read through the book, I realised that there is a lot of factual information about who Horowitz has worked with and what he has worked on. So much so that at times I feel his main characters in the murder mystery are in fact real people. Although, after a few more paragraphs, you realise that he has likely taken the trajectory of one actor’s career, an actor he has worked quite closely with over the years, and lent it to his character. Changing perhaps only the spelling of his name and his, of course, his surname. In a way, this use of real people reminds me of ‘Being John Malkovich’ or James Van Der Beak’s character in ‘The B**** in apartment 23’.

Thoughts and opinions

Having now finished the book, I am more and more inclined to believe that this murder actually happened. Both Hawthorne and Anthony are of course real people, the places they visit are most certainly real, and it leads me to believe that many of the events are also. I am still unsure if Horowitz would have been allowed to play as big a part as he leads us to believe, but when you break the fourth wall, you’ve got to be at the heart of the action. 

The title of the novel appears on page 25, during a conversation between Horowitz and Hawthorne, he then also makes reference to this at the end of the book. I found this running commentary to the story to be very useful but at times a little off-putting. It is a good story, told well, but I think I found it hard to get over the main device.

Horowitz’s career

The other main character, Hawthorne, reminded me, in a lot of ways, of Sherlock Holmes. Which makes total sense as in 2011, Horowitz released ‘The House of Silk’ the first Sherlock Holmes novel written as a new story with the estates blessing. However, I believe that he is also a real person, but whether he’s as insightful or reserved as his character in the book, is anyone’s guess.

The more I read about Horowitz and his career both on and off the screen, the more I realise that he was an ideal choice for such an endeavour.

He has since written a second Sherlock Holmes novel, Moriarty and in 2014, the Ian Flemming estate commisioned him to write ‘Trigger Mortis’, a new James Bond novel. His Alex Rider novels, of course, made him an obvious choice for this franchise as they are often referred to as ‘Teenage James Bond’.

His second James Bond novel “Forever and a Day” has just been released in hardback.

“007 is back. After authentically recreating the golden age of James Bond in his high-speed thriller, Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz is back in Ian Fleming‘s shoes once more.  In Forever and a Day he brings readers an official prequel to Casino Royale, telling the story of the origins of the world’s most famous secret agent.” – Waterstones

The Word is Murder

The story itself is a pretty good one, a murder mystery at heart and one which compels you to read on and learn more. Not just about the murder but about  Horowitz, (or Anthony, as he likes to be called) and Hawthorne themselves. 

“A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.  A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own. A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control. What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz’s page-turning new thriller.

Spread the word, The Word is Murder!” (sic) – Waterstones

I have to admit, even if this novel weren’t written by a world-famous author like Horowitz, I’d have picked it up, the blurb alone is intriguing. Although, it now gives me pause on the idea of pre-arranged funerals. The story actually turns out to be quite emotional with plot twists galore, most of which I, the reader, did not see coming.

I also found the writing to be easy to follow and fast paced, perhaps this is down to his career in young adult fiction. I did actually find myself steaming through the pages of this book. A great read to take away on holiday or on a long train/plane journey. Reading this book was actually quite pleasurable if at times a little off-putting when Horowitz himself interjects his thoughts and feelings. Definitely worth a read though.

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

Black Widow – 7th Jack Parlabane novel

By Chris Brookmyre

I picked up Black Widow a few months ago. It looked like my kind of book; crime thriller, critically acclaimed, award-winning (Don’t worry, I’m not always swayed by that aspect, it just helps to narrow down when waiting in a train station or looking for something to read on holiday when I don’t want to take a risk on an unknown quantity of quality). And half price to boot (loss-leading marketing by such stores as Waterstones and W H Smith, really does work on me when it comes to books, my reading habit is expensive so any discount I can get is truly a winner for me).

I had heard of Chris Brookmyre before I picked up the book, but to my surprise, I’d never actually read anything he’d written.
It’s been sat in my bookcase for months now, even moving with me, and yet still I’d not picked it up to read. Last weekend I was looking for a paperback to read in the bath, my most consumptive reading occurs in the bath, it’s time I feel as though I can completely relax and do what I want, immerse myself in the story with no interruptions. Reading in the bath is the ultimate me time.
On the off chance, I picked up Black Widow. I’m not sure why I’d been putting it off for so long. I am really glad I picked it up that day though.

Chapters and writing

This book is brilliant! It took me a chapter or two to get into it, but the chapter length meant that this was a mere few minutes and the writing style appealed to me instantly. The chapters are reasonably short, although not Patterson short, ranging from 3-10 pages in length, and they jump around between different characters, allowing you to experience the story through their eyes and their words.

The chapter length I find was perfect for getting you gripped and keeping you entertained throughout the whole book. You don’t tend to find your mind wandering half way through a chunky chapter, wishing that you could go back to the Jack or the Jager perspective of the story, instead, when you get to the end of each chapter you are keen to keep reading regarding of whose story arc is next.

I also found this length to be conducive to me being able to read at work and on the train, I rarely found I had to stop reading halfway through a chapter thus interrupting my flow, unlike with some books. This was the main factor in me getting through the book so fast.

Instead of numbers, the chapters are all named, giving you an idea of what you will experience or learn in this chapter. If I midway through a session, I wouldn’t necessarily read the chapter titles before reading the chapters themselves, but I found them to be very useful upon my return to the book after a few hours. You can flip back and remind yourself of the previous chapters contents without having to re-read.

Story and characters

Chris Brookmyre is great at giving you a full view of the characters thoughts and feelings without giving away anything too revealing to the plot. He keeps you on your toes whilst also explaining enough of what is going on that you are never lost in the storyline. His use of non-linear storyline is very naturalistic, and being that Black Widow is his 21st novel, he has had plenty of practice at getting this type of narrative right, and he does, in fact, manage it well.

“There is no perfect Marriage. There is no perfect Murder.”

This is the kind of novel which turns your beliefs about each character upside down with each new piece of information that you learn. One minute you are rooting for the Jager to be found guilty and the next you are questioning what you would do if you were in her shoes. Is Jack truly the ‘catch’ he first appeared? Putting this book down was difficult at times, Chris really does know how to keep you interested, each chapter holds a new twist to be dissected and analysed.

I’m not going to give anything away, but I can tell you that I experienced a strong sense of satisfaction at the outcome of this story. I felt vindicated in my feelings towards characters whose moral compasses had been ambiguous from the start. I also found that Black Widow made me reflect upon my own relationships and how they had formed and panned out over the years.

There is a healthy dose of suspicious and anxiety injected into the narrative of this story. Chris certainly does know a lot about the human psyche. For anyone who has read and enjoyed ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins, you will know exactly what I mean by this.

Blurb

And now for a bit more about the story…

Diana Jager is clever, strong and successful, a skilled surgeon and fierce campaigner via her blog about sexism. Yet it takes only hours for he life to crumble when her personal details are released on the internet as revenge for her writing.

Then she meets Peter. He’s kind, generous and knows nothing about her past: the second chance she’s been waiting for. Within six months, they are married. Within six more, Peter is dead in a road accident, a nightmare end to their fairytale romance.

But Peter’s sister Lucy doesn’t believe in fairytales, and tasks maverick reporter Jack Parlabane with discovering the dark truth behind the woman the media are calling Black Widow.

[Taken from the book Jacket]

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thrilling read. I have lent this book to at least two other people who have both massively enjoyed reading it. It is the ideal book for long journeys or if you are looking for a good read for a staycation. The question of whether Jager is truly the Black Widow she is portrayed as or something else entirely will keep you interested throughout.